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Industrial Safety

Explosion in Leverkusen kills at least 2

German accident traced to organic solvents in waste processing center

by Alex Scott
July 28, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 28

A photo of black smoke billowing from a fire.
Credit: Associated Press
The explosion at the facility in Leverkusen sent a cloud of dark smoke over the area.

Two employees were killed and 31 were injured after an explosion on Tuesday morning at Chempark’s chemical complex in Leverkusen, Germany. Five more people are missing. The complex is a major manufacturing hub for Bayer, Lanxess, and about 30 other companies.

The explosion occurred in a tank containing solvents in the complex’s waste-management center, which features a sewage system, a landfill, and an incinerator. Organic solvents are stored in containers at the center before being incinerated.

“The search for the missing is still going on at full speed. Unfortunately, the hope of finding them alive is dwindling,” Lars Friedrich, manager of the complex, says in a statement.

It is the worst chemical industry accident in Germany since 2016, when three maintenance workers died while working on pipelines at BASF’s site in Ludwigshafen.

Authorities and the park’s management are now investigating why the explosion occurred. “We are taking samples and are analyzing them together,” Friedrich says.

The explosion caused a fire that took 3 h to extinguish. It left Leverkusen under a pall of black smoke for much of Tuesday. Authorities closed roads and warned local residents to stay indoors because of the risk to health. “We have neighbors who have been terrified,” Friedrich says.

More than 30,000 people work at the 480-hectare complex, which produces nitration and chlorination products, aromatics, fine chemicals, and silicon chemicals in about 200 plants. Bayer and Lanxess sold the complex, along with other real estate, to the property management firm Macquarie in 2019 for more than $4 billion.



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